Articles/Press

Clockwise from right, presenter Wendy DesChene, Maddie and Christine Cremer of Little Chute, Feona Feria of Green Bay, the former Tsyunhehkwa director Jeff Metoxen and St. Norbert College assistant art professor Katie Ries look at pictures of moths as they wait for the winged insects to appear at darkness June 10 as part of The Moth Project at the Tsyunhehkwa agricultural center in Oneida. (Photo: Todd McMahon/Press-Gazette Media)

Presenter Jeff Schmuki takes photographs of moths that landed on a white tent illuminated by solar-powered ultraviolet lights June 10 during the opening-night event for The Moth Project at the Tsyunhehkwa agricultural center in Oneida. (Photo: Todd McMahon/Press-Gazette Media)

Art project aims to squash myths about moths

From The Greenbay Press Gazettte 

Todd McMahon, June 17th, 2015

http://www.greenbaypressgazette.com/story/life/2015/06/17/art-project-aims-squash-myths-moths/28890255/

If conditions work in their favor, organizers of a unique event might get their wish of bringing a flurry of nighttime activity to the Green Bay area. In a fun, interactive and educational way, Wendy DesChene and Jeff Schmuki are hanging out here most of June on the lookout for — of all interesting things — moths.

"It's like fishing. You never know what you're going to get," Schmuki said. "We have been in situations where they're landing on you like snow. It's amazing, it's magical, and when people experience that, it changes their viewpoint."

The Moth Project, which mixes experiential art with environmental science, is shining a positive light on the winged insects that typically are seen as a nuisance for hovering around porch lights or destroying clothes.

Their project uses an arrangement of white tents lit with solar-powered lights to attract a large, diverse number of moths for the sake of learning about their natural habitats. The artists also promote the benefits of the fluttering critters, including the value of moths in horticulture for pollination.

"Moths are actually incredibly beautiful," said DesChene, who teaches painting and drawing at Auburn University in Alabama.

 

DesChene and Schmuki, college art professors, are presenting a series of nighttime programs at outdoor locations. Their artists-in-residency stay of three weeks in Northeastern Wisconsin is being funded by St. Norbert College in De Pere and an ART WORKS grant from the National Endowment for the Arts.

At each stop, DesChene and Schmuki, who wear white lab coats, catalog their findings by taking photos and videos of the subjects in what they call noninvasive sampling.

"We're kind of bringing something that doesn't quite look like what people think of when they think of art," said Katie Ries, an assistant art professor at St. Norbert who coordinated the local events.

DesChene and Schmukihave taken their portable learning center around the country and to Canada and Europe.

Those who attended the local debut of The Moth Project on June 10 at the Tsyunhehkwa agricultural center in Oneida were turned on by several moth sightings after darkness set in. A blend of fluorescent and black lighting lured the bugs to each tent.

Even 4-year-old Lucas, who earned a night to stay up late as he ventured out with his mother Laura Warren of Green Bay, was wowed by dozens of moths of different sizes and colors that landed on the tent panels.

"There's nothing to be scared of because they don't bite at all," Schmuki told the excited young boy. "Moths are very friendly."

The free moth garden events resumed Tuesday at Bay Beach Wildlife Sanctuary, followed by one at Neville Public Museum along the Fox River on Wednesday.

Three more events are on tap, including tonight outside St. Norbert College's Mulva Library. 

 

"Each community we go to has a different set of moths and native vegetation," DesChene said. "Often, the native pollinators and the vegetation grew up together. What can grow in one area can't grow in another area, so you can't get the same moths everywhere."

It also helps to have temperate weather with no rain and little to no wind, said Schmuki, who teaches ceramics and sculpture at Georgia Southern University.

He is especially looking forward to what could be a downpour of moths at an event at Green Bay Botanical Garden on Tuesday night.

"We were out there (for an early look), and it's a very healthy environment. Lots of blooming plants and diversity," Schmuki said. "Diversity is something that you do not see in our agricultural system — it's the same plant for miles and miles. That isn't healthy for any (pollinating) insect, whether it be a bee or a moth."

Schmuki and DesChene have been together professionally and personally for six years and call their sustainability-focused endeavors PlantBot Genetics.

"The thing about our environment is we don't know everything about it and all of the connections that are within it," DesChene said.

 

After each residency, they spend several weeks compiling a field guide with photos, names and descriptions of the moths discovered.

The Green Bay field guide is expected to be ready when St. Norbert hosts the "PlantBot Genetics: Mothology" exhibit at the on-campus Bush Art Center in September. DesChene and Schmuki will return for a presentation on the project.

"One of the goals of the book is to get people excited about what's going on in their yard and to get engaged with their yard," DesChene said. "Because if they are, they're less likely to grab a can of pesticide and just start spraying everything."

Food art exhibit plays off biotech's scary potential From The Detroit News:

MICHAEL H. HODGES Feb 18, 2014

http://www.detroitnews.com/article/20140218/ENT01/302180012#ixzz2toUc5OWe

Done poorly, political art is a preachy drag. Done well, it can slash, skewer and thrill its audience.“Foodture: PlantBot Genetics” at Wayne State’s Elaine L. Jacob Gallery succeeds at the latter three. Monsanto and other giant agricultural conglomerates might feel wounded, but the rest of us will laugh at the artists’ tongue-in-cheek attack on genetically modified foods in this traveling show that’s one part science experiment, one part “Little Shop of Horrors.”“Foodture” is up through April 11.The environmental artists behind it, Wendy Deschene, who teaches art at Auburn University in Alabama, and Jeff Schmuki, who is doing artist-in-residence gigs in Holland and in Finland, say in their opening panel they want to take on “the aggressive and sometimes misleading practices of biotech companies.”And wow — do they ever.As the “Foodture” creators see it, the disturbing unknown in GMO agriculture is what happens once successive generations of genetically modified organisms have been spliced into food crops. They see a future filled with Frankenstein plants and crops “with no clear heritage and no clear future.”“Foodture” takes up the entire first floor at the Jacob Gallery with a series of what look like botanical stations, each with its own cheerful plants hooked up and wired, in most cases, to a push-button that sends some of them into antics that are most un-horticultural.Press the push-button by the three robust heads of iceberg lettuce, titled “Lactuca Ice sative,” and they’ll rock out, gyrating like any teenager to Vanilla Ice.Press the button by the plant with the bright-yellow flowers, and “#3626-H2” throws itself back and forth to Steam’s “Na Na Hey Hey,” ending with a full-body bow worthy of the best drama queen.The genetic freak show goes on and on. “Love Machine Incubator” features ferns under a glass belljar, hooked up to electrodes and a small circuit board. The apparatus, the label announces, permits the user to mix and match animal and plant genes to his or her specifications, creating one’s own designer freaks.Finally, in perhaps the the most knowing jab of all, the back wall features PlantBot “advertising,” a dead-on parody of the soft-focus, happy-happy images often favored by pharmaceutical and chemical giants to push their products.All in all, “Foodture” is more fun than a barrel full of genetically modified monkeys. Be sure to take the kids.'Foodture: PlantBot Genetics'10 a.m.-6 p.m. Tuesday-Thursday,10 a.m.-7 p.m. Friday through April 11Elaine L. Jacob GalleryWayne State University480 W. Hancock, DetroitFree(313) 993-7813www.art.wayne.edu/jacob_gallery.phpMHodges@detroitnews.comFrom The Detroit News: http://www.detroitnews.com/article/20140218/ENT01/302180012#ixzz2toTLP1oG

AgriCULTURE by - Patricia Watts, April 2012

http://ecoartspace.blogspot.com/2012/05/monsantra.html

How did we get here? And, did we really think we could outsmart nature? Science without conscience or ethics is definitely not smart. In a capitalist economy, we can understand how it happens. But, how could anyone in his or her right mind believe that altering nature beyond simple hybridizations could be a good thing in the long run? When Luther Burbank undertook his investigations into hybrid grafting and crossbreeding of plants at his experimental farm in Sebastopol, California in the late 1800s, his intentions were to modify or alter nature in ways that would benefit agricultural shortcomings. His contributions include the Burbank potato that was introduced in Ireland to help combat the blight epidemic, and several varietals of fruits that eventually paved the way for the Green Revolution. The predecessors of Genetically Modified Organisms (GMOs) were straightforward and it was exciting to know that humans could collaborate with nature to benefit humankind.
However, the real concern is how far should we go with this collaboration, an unknown territory merging commercially driven scientific experiments with natural processes. Enter Frankenfoods…. having grown up on a farm myself, the idea that something was wrong with my food arose in the 1990s, when I could not find a good tomato anywhere for years. They were all mush. In fact, I gave up eating my favorite fruit because they were basically uneatable. This is obviously a problem for a whole generation of now young adults who have grown up thinking these tomatoes are normal and who continue to eat them today.


In the entire USA, Trinity, Marin and Mendocino in Northern California are the only counties that have been able to pass legislation banning GMOs. Percy Schmeiser from Saskatchewan who was featured in Debra Koon’s documentary The Future of Food in 2005, one of the first documentaries that addressed GMOs, spent his life savings to fend off Monsanto who sued him for stealing seeds that he never even wanted or had any control over their distribution, a purported crime that truly defied all logic. Schmeiser finally won after almost a decade in 2008. Also in 2010, Bill Gates purchased 500,000 shares of Monsanto stock valued at more than $23 million while his nonprofit the Gates Foundation is funding biotechnology programs, introducing GMOs to poor communities around the world. And, the Long Now Foundation, and its founder “ageing hippie technophile” Stuart Brand, who supports long term thinking, believes GMOs are a necessity to feed a starving planet. But is this really long-term planning when we are abandoning seeds that have been around for thousands of years?


Artists such Alexis Rockman (paintings), Christy Rupp (sculpture), and Steve Kurtz with the Critical Art Ensemble (public sphere performance) have questioned this world of modifying nature to feed a growing population. And, an important exhibition that also explored these issues over a decade ago was Paradise Now first presented 2001 at Exit Art in New York City. Monsantra by Wendy DesChene and Jeff Schmuki expands on the GM dialogue by reaching out into communities with their solar powered portable Genetic Field Lab and hybrid robotic PlantBots in 2010 and 2011. More recently they have created a Mobile Incubator and Educational Gallery out of a converted 18 foot long trailer that serves as a roving Art Lab or nucleus that can move from city to city, state to state, where they present their PlantBot Workshops. Employing satire in the public sphere, their interventions educate about the absurdities of genetically modified foods in a playful way.

On Friday I saw Wendy DesChene and Jeff Schmuki’s Monsantra at The New Gallery (check out their website about the project at monstantra.com).  This is a fantastic show to see how art and science can interact and cross-pollinate. The subject matter is genetically modified organisms – the project started when DesChene  and Schmuki got some Monsanto GMO seed and, to comment on genetically modified food, and our food system – created hybrid roboplants. The first ones featured real plants, but they’ve made others, mostly with silk or plastic plants which last longer. The project has been shown in a few different ways; the installation at The New Gallery is like a natural history museum exhibit, with notes explaining what each specimen is and biological illustrations of the plants, to illustrate exactly how they are hybridized with robots. When you see the show, push the buttons. The project has also been shown in situ in a forest, where people pressed buttons on information stands and a roboplant incorporated into the forest moved or made noise, or a roboplant remote controlled car interacted with people in a market in Italy. Videos of these incarnations of the project are included in the exhibition at The New Gallery.


This is a really interesting show and it works on a few levels. The first one is the criticism of genetically modified food, and it really does take the idea of modifying the food system with technology to the most extreme level. Since we’ve been domesticizing plants for so long I think it can be hard to think about how genetically modifying the plants directly might be different, and these end-game roboplants do help you consider that.
On another level, the robot-plants are really engaging and fascinating as objects. They build them based on electronic toys – robodogs, chickens that sing and dinosaurs are a few I could pick out – and then use those as the base for the foliage. So the movement and sound of the toys becomes both really abstract and disconnected from whatever it used to be, and connected to the idea of a plant and serene nature, and it makes for some really interesting and confusing objects and motions. Motions that are cute and funny when a bear does them are somewhat alarming when it’s a stand of wheat! So you also think about how we conceptualize plants and animals differently and how we make toys out of them, and what tenuous relationship a robotic toy dog may have to a real dog.


So, I would certainly suggest checking out this show, seeing and interacting with the plants, and talking about some of these things with other people seeing the show, your friends, or whoever happens to be around! You can also try some of these things at TELUS Spark in Open Studio, where there are lots of electronics to play with, or at home. At home, you can get some electronic toys that move, take off their coverings with scissors or an exacto knife, and re-cover them with some other material. In this case, fake foliage, but you could use any materials to take the idea of genetic modification to its absolute outer limit (if there is one). Then, you can make biological diagrams explaining your new creatures and how they’ve been hybridized from their various components. This would be some pretty easy toy hacking, but if you want to get further in to making toys do what you want them to instead of what they were made to do, check out Toy Hacking Workshop on GeekDad (part of wired.com).

A​lthough botanists haven’t discovered them yet, some bizarre new plant species have cropped up at The New Gallery. Cadence Mandybura May 17th 2012
http://www.ffwdweekly.com/article/arts/visual-arts/gmo-thought-experiments-9169/

Some glow. Some gyrate on their stalks and roar. One bursts into song. Others can zoom about on wheels.
They are all part of Monsantra, a project created by artistic duo Wendy DesChene and Jeff Schmuki. The pair have collaborated for years now, creating not only the art (mainly fake plants hooked up to wires), but also an entire back-story and the ersatz company, PlantBot Genetics, that is behind many of the “species.” This lighthearted shtick is a satire of agricultural giant Monsanto and genetically modified food in general.
“Monsanto [has] been presented as a potential solution to a lot of the world’s food shortage problems, and it may well prove to be that,” says The New Gallery programming director Tim Westbury. “But, I think we’re also seeing that, like so many human technological undertakings that involve monkeying with nature, there’s a certain point where nature starts to fight back — and she has a very good track record of winning.”


The artists began Monsantra years ago and the project has gone through several evolutions. The roving exhibition was first set up in a portable trailer, with their plantbots making appearances in the United States, Canada and Europe. The New Gallery’s more stationary presentation is detailed and immersive. Most plantbots have attached controls that will set them moving or roaring, and every species has a detailed write-up about its supposed genetic gifts. There are also wall-sized photos and video footage of plantbots on the move.
Skilfully crafted botanical drawings line the walls, offering visitors a glimpse into the inner workings of the fictitious plants, such as the “Top 40 Radio Waves” that are part of the “Britneyatacum Performada,” which belts Britney Spears at the touch of a button.
Between this and other species, like the roaring “Rex-Poppy Papaveraceoe Dinosauria,” viewers are left with no doubt that the Monsantra doesn’t take itself too seriously.


“No one likes to have ideology rammed down their throat,” says Westbury of the artists’ tongue-in-cheek approach. “The whole intention of this project is really just to get people talking about GMO food, and what that mean[s] for people who consume it, and also the agricultural land that it’s grown on.
“It’s a kind of thought experiment taken to an illogical extreme,” he adds with a laugh. “If part of what scientific technology, especially genetic technology, is allowing us to do is graft technological elements with natural elements, is there some future point that we have plants that sing Britney Spears?”
Well, probably not. But in the meantime, Monsantra is fun, funny and interactive — a gentle way to open up a discussion about a huge issue.

Artists unleash ‘PlantBots’ on campus. Exhibit combines art, electronics to shed light on food production -George Mattingly April 10th 2012

http://www.houstonianonline.com/a-e/artists-unleash-plantbots-on-campus-1.2727269#.UakQ0pWhDzI


Roaring and singing sounded from several green plants as they wiggled around and followed students to class as they invaded campus last week a part of hybrid art exhibit titled “Monsantra”. The exhibit was a collaborative effort by visiting artists Wendy DesChene and Jeff Schmuki along with students from the advanced sculpture course in the art department at Sam Houston State University.


They worked together to bring plants to life in order to raise questions about what is in the food a person eats and where it comes from.
The two-day process to create the living plants involved wiring animatronics from recycled toys and cars in plants, according to DesChene.
The results are unlike any other art exhibit with such “species” like Succa-Fernamongus Performada and Myosotis Lagomorphia Forget-Me-Hop,  plants that sang and danced at the press of button. Other robotic plants included grass plants on wheels driven by a remote control, a small, barking dog covered in leaves and Elmo.
“In our way, we can take Elmo’s skin off and put plants on him,” DesChene said. “It’s friendly, playful, funny, and interactive way to get people to talk about what’s in their food.”
“Monsantra” is named after the Monsanto Corporation, one of the biggest producers of genetically modified organisms.


After Schmuki went undercover as a farmer at the corporation, he discovered “stretches of truth” about food production in the U.S.
“The more I read about our food production, the more called to action I was,” Schmuki said. “There is a huge portion of the population that is unaware of what is in their food and there needs to be more transparency in our food production.”
Housed in a solar-powered mobile lab complete with laptops, TVs and lights, the artists have taken their unique experiment around the world to places like Korea, Rome, Paris, Finland, and Canada as a way to encourage discussion about the food they eat and self-sufficiency.
“We use humor as a way to provide opportunity for discussion,” Schmuki said. “Art is neutral ground that serves as a safe place to engage. We’re not here to force people to do anything, just to provide information.”
The living plants grabbed the attention of spectators who stopped midway through their steps to interact with some of the humorous plants and read about the exhibit.


“I thought it was a serious science thing,” visitor Mary Dudley said. “The plants on wheels made me smile and I wanted to know more. [The exhibit] was definitely surprising; it makes you think differently.”


The experiment was also a learning experience for the students who worked on their own robotic plants in order to see how art could be used as a catalyst for change.“It was interesting,” Melissa Wood, junior studio art major, said. “I’ve never made interactive art before. They [the artists] make things that are light hearted and fun and people are attracted to that. It’s like a conversation.”